Saturday, December 26, 2009

Favorite Songs of 2009

Last year I trouble putting together a year-end top 10 favorite songs list, although much of that difficulty was the fault of my own ignorance. Nonetheless, 2009 was a dynamite year for singles, and I had to cut a lot to pare my list down to 25 picks. Sadly, hip-hop has another bad year, although I haven’t spent much time with the Pitchfork championed ‘Shineblockas’ yet. Enough rambling though, here’s my list, my favorite 25 songs of 2009:


  1. ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ – Japandroids from Post-Nothing

Japandroids have crafted their musical masterpiece out of the barest rock elements imaginable: one ridiculously fuzzed out electric guitar, one drum part alternating between tribal pounding and cymbal crashes, two dudes who can’t sing, and about 4 bars worth of lyrics. Now even the punks should be jealous of that accomplishment.

  1. ‘Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)’ – Cymbals Eat Guitars from Why There Are Mountains

In an album defined by massively ambitious sprawl, Cymbals Eat Guitars were able to pull it all together for one shining moment of warped song structure, obtuse lyrical imagery, trumpet accompaniment, larynx-shredding screams, and glorious, glorious hooks.

  1. ‘My Girls’ – Animal Collective from Merriweather Post Pavilion

So obviously brilliant, I can’t even give Pitchfork props for finally getting it right and putting a truly deserving song at the top of their list.

  1. ‘People Got A Lotta Nerve’ – Neko Case from ‘Sound Opinions’ session

Am I the only one who thinks elephants are inherently depressing? I mean, even if the famine and drought of their decaying ecosystems doesn’t get them, the poachers surely will. The essential melancholy of this song is highlighted in this stripped-down version. Please download it from immediately.

  1. ‘Lisztomania’ – Phoenix from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

This song earns number 4 on my list by virtue of its first 25 seconds alone. The next three and a half minutes aren’t too bad either.

  1. ‘House of Flying Daggers’ – Raekwon from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II

Second best line: “Rae’s job is to make sure the coke is fluffy, while I politic his birthday bash with Puffy” - Ghostface

Best line: “Bury me in Africa with whips and spears and rough diamonds out of Syria” – Raekwon

  1. ‘I’m Confused’ – Handsome Furs from Face Control

God made Dan Boeckner to bring us ferocious power chords and to sing every proletarian lyric like a guy with a knife in his chest.

  1. ‘Deadbeat Summer’ – Neon Indian from Neon Indian

Amazing, this song is just as good on December 26 as it was when I listened to it in             early August.

  1. ‘No Hope Kids’ – Wavves from Wavvves

Best punk song of the year.

  1. ‘I Hate My Job’ – Cam’ron from Crime Pays

Out of the blue, Cam’ron decides to switch from professional asshole to working-class hero, and sets his transformation to one of the best beats he’s ever rapped over.

  1. ‘When I’m Gone’ – Vivian Girls from Everything Goes Wrong

The chorus of this song crystallizes pretty much everything the Vivian Girls do well.

  1. ‘That’s That’ – DOOM from Born Like This

Hearing DOOM sing the refrain of “I Wanna Be Where You Are” at the end of this track was a far more emotional moment for me than when I first learned about Michael Jackson’s death.

  1. Knotty Pine’ – Dirty Projectors from Dark Was the Night

Something tells me that David Byrne’s vocals are the glue that holds this whole song together.

  1. ‘Sovereignty’ – Japandroids from Post-Nothing

The boys take a break from whining about their girl problems to give us a genuine love song.

  1. ‘Suffering Season’ – Woods from ‘Daytrotter’ session

This song is so achingly beautiful. Not what I expect from spooky, atmospheric folk rockers. Please check it out at 

  1. ‘Too Sick to Pray’ – Phosphorescent from To Willie

90% of the credit goes to Willie for writing such an incredible lyrical gem, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else nailing it as well as Matt Houck does here.

  1. ‘Call and Response’ – Time New Viking from Stay Awake EP

I have a very soft spot for cheesy keyboards in garage rock, which is probably why Beth Murphy consistently makes me swoon.

  1. ‘When We Were Alive’ – The Thermals from Now We Can See

Second best punk song of the year. Musical eco-terrorism.

  1. ‘Wasted’ – Gucci Mane from The State Vs. Radric Davis

The best mainstream rap hit of the year is actually about racial unification under the banner of partying.

  1. ‘Walkabout’ – Atlas Sound from Atlas Sound

Noah Lennox strikes again. I’ll admit that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Bradford or Noah’s past work, so I consider the depth of my love for this song to be vindication of it greatness.

  1. ‘The Reeling’ – Passion Pit from Manners 

I can’t believe I actually like a pop song that uses a children’s choir.

  1. ‘Dominos’ – Big Pink from A Brief History of Love

This song is fun to sing-along to, not that I can identify with anything that these guys are talking about.

  1. ‘Raindrops’ – Basement Jaxx from Scars

I’ve only listened to this song a few times, but something tells me that a few more plays could propel it to the number one spot. 

  1. ‘The Pharoahs’ – Neko Case from Middle Cyclone 

Hard to choose Neko’s best ballad from 2009, but I’ll go with the one that brought me to the verge of tears during her performance at the State Theater in Ithaca.

  1. ‘Hold the Line’ – Major Lazer from Guns Don’t Kill People, Lazers Kill People

Since I didn’t start listening to Santigold until this year, I’m going to give this Diplo and Switch collaboration a nod on my 2009 list.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Why I worship Ted Leo: reason #23

This guy writes songs about stuff that other punks wouldn't touch with a 10 foot stick. Item A is the glorious 'Me and Mia', a fiercly infectious slice of power pop that sounds ready for the whole family to enjoy. Except that it's about Ted's compassion for victims of eating disorders. Yet he brings the same utterly sincere fervor to his performance as he does in his angriest agitprop rants. Or how about 'Hearts of Oak', about how difficult it is for women to break through in the rock music scene? 'St. John the Divine', about the pitfalls of anti-depression medication? Ted Leo's lyrics are fearlessly emotional. He's never been afraid of sacrificing punk credibility to show a more sensitive side, which paradoxically endows his more political pieces with even greater power. Perhaps my favorite 'emo' Ted Leo moment is 'Sons of Cain', the first song on his last album, Living With The Living. I got so swept up in the roaring guitars, ferocious vocals, and break-neck rhythm of the song that it wasn't until months after first hearing the song that I realized it's about Ted mourning the loss of a partner, with the most tenderly melancholy lyrics imaginable. Yet the performance remains punk to the core, no power ballads for Leo. And the result is incredibly moving.

And I know I'm not to sing of fights I've missed
But alone I've got to sing just to exist!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How the world began

I don't think I've devoted enough blog-space to Modest Mouse, easily one of my favorite bands of all time. Maybe it's because they haven't done anything since 'Float On' that's been really worth talking about. That aside, going into their back catalogue is infinitely rewarding: their early material is so rich with emotions and ideas, and their sound is so original and distinctive. My most recent fix has been the opening track off The Moon and Antarctica, entitled '3rd Planet.' Isaac Brock is one of pop music great song writers, but he outdoes himself here by shunning his traditionally graphic philosophical musings for something, dare I say, poetic? My favorite lyric in the song (and possibly my favorite Brock lyric of all time, which is saying a hell of a lot) occurs in the first verse, and goes as follows:

The third planet is certain they're being watched
By an eye in the sky that can't be stopped
When you get to the promised land
You're gonna shake that eyes hand

Your heart felt good
It was dripping pitch and made of wood
And your hands, and knees
Felt cold and wet on the grass to me
While outside naked, shivering looking blue
From the cold sunlight that's reflected off the moon
And baby cum angels fly around you
Reminding me we used to be three and not just two
And that's how the world began
And that's how the world will end

In between the fourth and fifth lines above a lazy acoustic strum is interrupted by a cymbal crash and five successive beats led by ringing electric guitar notes that repeat, then change chord. It's a remarkable moment, and Brock's accompanying lyrics are beautifully evocative of something: a naked couple lying on the ground outside on a cold night staring at the moon? Contemplating love, sex, creation, and existence perhaps? It's grand, but Brock is always swinging for the fences when it comes to making sense of the ball of confusion that is earth, or even more grandly, the universe. Enormous and minute problems are all of equal magnitude to Brock, which might be why is able to imbue simple expression with intense emotional weight. Take the track 'Broke', another of my recent kicks off of the fantastic Building Nothing Out of Something compilation, in which Brock plays with the titular word to find deeper meanings in everyday events:

Broken glasses but it broke the ice
You said that I was an asshole and I'd pay the price

Broken hearts want broken necks
I've done some things that I sort of regret but I can't

Backed by the trailer trash emo sound of early Mouse, and sung in Brock's cracked lisp, these words take on a compelling resonance. They're the sort of simple but endlessly sad and profound ideas one might expect from a white trash high school dropout. That Brock does so in such an authentic, unconcious matter adds a lot; Modest Mouse songs work because the guys in the band are genuine fuck-ups. If they weren't, there's know way there music would sound so real. I'll close this fawning post with some more of my favorite Brock lyrics, from another Building Nothing cut, this one entitled 'Medication'. As you read these lyrics, imagine a glorious Hammond B3 organ accompaniment, and Brock's lonely caterwaul:

And I don't know
Well I could go away and you could wish that I had stayed
Or just stayed gone
And I don't know, at all
So out of the context
Then into what you meant
You don't know your reason
You don't know who you are, but you know who you want to be